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Highest earners may not be the smartest employees: Study



Why the smartest employees may not be the top earners

The study analyzed the cognitive abilities of 59,387 men of Swedish descent. (Representative)

It pays to be smart, or so it is said. But according to a recent Swedish study, the highest-earning workers may not be the brainiest.

Research published in the European Sociological Review in January found that higher general intelligence was related to higher wages—but only to the extent of about 600,000 Swedish krona ($57,300) per year. Beyond that point, the study found that growth in ability plateaus as wages continue. And earners in the top 1% score slightly worse than those in the income bracket directly below them.

The authors of the study, led by Mark Keussnig, Senior Associate Professor of Analytical Sociology at Linköping, wrote, “We find no evidence that people in top jobs that pay extraordinary salaries are more qualified than those who only Earn half the salary.” University in Sweden.

“Extreme occupational success is likely to have more to do with luck than with family resources or ability,” the authors said.

The study analyzed the cognitive abilities of 59,387 Swedish-born men at age 18 or 19 and their earnings during an 11-year period between the ages of 35 and 45. The research was based on a standardized intelligence test that the men took part in. Compulsory military service, which included tests of verbal comprehension, technical understanding, spatial ability, and reasoning.

Women and immigrants were not included in the study because military service was not mandatory for those groups between 1971–77 and 1980–99, when the initial data were recorded.

The research doesn’t account for non-cognitive abilities — such as motivation levels or better social skills — that may help workers score higher-paying jobs. The study’s authors also acknowledge other limitations of their work: For example, the smartest people may not always opt for the highest-paying job for a more interesting or rewarding role. (Academia, they note, is “neither the best paid nor the most prestigious professional field.”)

Nevertheless, Keuschnigg sees the lack of correlation between IQ and wages at higher levels as a warning sign about growing income inequality between the wealthiest and the rest of society. Given that Sweden has a relatively small income gap, “we can anticipate that we may see it even more so in places like Singapore or the US,” he said.

“Decisions to make the top earners have consequences for a lot of people,” he said. “That’s why we as a society want to put the right people in these top positions.”

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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